Meet... Matt from My Father's Barber

Matt teaching a group of men. Image: Supplied

Matt teaching a group of men. Image: Supplied

Matt Brown’s story isn’t the easiest to share. The father of three grew up in a family of nine, living in a state house with immigrant parents. From a young age, he experienced domestic violence and sexual abuse.

Through his traumatic upbringing, Matt has gained strength and shares his story in the hopes it encourages positive change in the men around him.

To do this, he first needed to connect with the men in his community and, about seven years ago, he decided barbering was his way to do this.

Setting up a basic station in his garden shed, Matt taught himself how to barber from YouTube.

“When people sit in my chair, I’m the same as out of the shop. In that regard, all my clients know who I am and where I come from,” he says.

“Many of my clients had childhoods like mine and are now in and out of jail, addicted to substances or joining gangs. I have come to understand now that owning my story is a powerful way to connect with others and barbering is the vehicle for me to do this”.

Growing from a garden shed to a bustling shop in Central Christchurch, Matt believes a barbershop can be the cornerstone of a community. His business, My Father’s Barbers, motto is “Giving great cuts, Inspiring great men”.

Matt grew a large social media following right from the start and uses his reach and client relationships for “the greater good”.

“What’s the point otherwise?” he quizzes me.

After Friday’s devastating racial extremist attacks in his home city, Matt and his team burst quickly into action.

Rather than stepping away from social media [like I did], Matt, his team and his wife used their engaged following to help the victims families.

I am honoured to interview Matt today. I hope his story, his abundance of hope and mana, is as inspiring to you, as it was to me.

Matt, Sarah and their three children. Image: supplied.

Matt, Sarah and their three children. Image: supplied.

Hi Matt, thanks so much for talking to me today! It's incredible how you and your wife have helped the Muslim community of Ōtautahi that were affected by the terrorist attacks so quickly and practically. Tell me what you're doing and how you decided to do this?

It all just happened organically- our best friend is a social worker at the hospital and as soon as it all happened, people like her were on the ground running, trying to overwhelmingly

help hundreds with very little. There was a very immediate need for practical help with no red tape, so she contacted us to ask for help with vans, drivers and transportation. We stepped in with this on the Saturday night just using community contacts. From there it quickly became a ‘Facebook appeal’ for anything they needed.

They had no water available at the hospital where all the families were waiting – we asked and in hours had pallets delivered. Then fuel/grocery vouchers, marquees, Halal food, Halal chefs, tables/chairs, BBQ’s, Gas cookers, toilet paper, nappies, baby food, wipes and sanitary items... honestly anything they asked for we tried our best to source via our social media platform. Our community responded instantly and so generously, I think because people wanted a way to give directly in practical ways. We even had a few corporate’s hear about what we were doing and dropped thousands of dollars in pressie cards, fuel cards and grocery cards to our reception.

It's been 10-days since the heinous attacks, what does the community need now? What donations are you seeking?

I think this community of people most of all needs the same kind of love and support anyone does. I think it’s really time for the ‘average New Zealander’ to step outside their ‘little bubble’ of mostly hanging with people exactly like us. You know what I mean - sticking to cliques of people!

I challenge anyone to befriend neighbours, talk to different people, and don’t only have relationships with people who think and look exactly like you! I am a Christian Samoan brother with friends of all walks of life and belief systems. I’m better for it. My children are better for it. Anyone is welcome in my barbershop and my wife and I make it our mission to serve anyone however we can with the love we’d desire for ourselves. I’m not Muslim but I can genuinely say I desire for that community the same as what I desire for mine. We are more the same than different.

And on a practical level, we are still accepting grocery and fuel vouchers at our barbershop. We have our friends at Christchurch City Mission accepting Halal non perishable items also.

You've talked about not wanting to talk to media and being an introvert - how are you dealing with this new found "fame"?

*laughing* Fame? Today’s headlines are tomorrow’s bin-liners! From the start of when I was barbering in a shed in the worst neighbourhood of Christchurch, I got a fair bit of media attention worldwide for the hair art I did so my social media blew up then.

I have always believed that any opportunity or platform I was blessed with, is really an opportunity for me to highlight far greater issues. For instance in the barbering industry I have had many requests and opportunities to travel, teach and speak around the world. Before my classes, I always share my story of overcoming abuse. I think knowing my purpose and the reason why I do this keeps me going when I probably wouldn’t want to do any of it.

I am naturally an introvert, I’ve always been like this - I’d prefer to do something creative alone and slip under the radar and I like nothing more than just hanging with my wife and kids at home, but I have always attempted to be faithful with what I have. I don’t love talking to media or fronting video clips online but I knew if we wanted the volume of supplies needed for this community then I had to so I have to get over myself.

I’m far from famous, except to my kids. People are just interested in this issue right now.

Through your generosity and quick action, you and your wife have built a large and engaged online community - what's next for My Father's Barber?

Yes we’ve had a great community online for years - they are the ones that support every community project we come up with. They have from the beginning and their support and indeed the support of our community is what fuels all of this - I really couldn’t do the work we do without them. I may front it but trust me when I say my community backs it.

Currently, we are working in collaboration with the Ministry of Social Development on a project in the barbering community nationwide, to utilise the barbershop spaces around the country to help create violence free communities, which is a personal mandate of mine. I am an ambassador and advocate for Women’s refuge and White Ribbon so I’ll continue on in that work and we’ve just started working in the space of taking men straight out of prison or corrections, training them, employing them and assisting them to rehabilitate fully into society.

I am giving a TEDx talk in August with the same theme as the upcoming book I have written with my wife; ‘She Is Not Your Rehab’. The heart of the book is from years of sitting listening to men in my chair and hearing a collective pain and seeing that pain inflicted on women like my Mother. This book is my response to that, as I want to more than anything empower men to own their own healing so they are able to have healthy relationships.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Thank you for this opportunity! It’s great to connect with anyone with a social conscience! We can all do our part to support our communities to be healthier and more accepting.

*Answers have been edited for length and clarity

Rebecca Lee